15 – Correspondence
Arguably, the most common and ubiquitous form of technical and professional communication is engaging in correspondence. A simple definition of correspondence is the exchange of messages between two or more people.
The mediums in which correspondence takes place vary widely, including emails, letters, memos, social media posts, and even text messages. However, professional correspondence has some common traits across all mediums of communication:
- It typically focuses on lower-stakes exchanges of information than reports or presentations, such as making requests, asking specific questions, providing updates on project progress or completion, or responding to a client.
- It typically consists of shorter messages (a message that is paragraphs long makes for a tedious email and an excruciating text message).
- The communicative distance between sender and receiver is short (i.e., the person initiating the correspondence usually expects a prompt and specific response).
- Although more typical of letters and memos, the writer must consider any approval processes in place (review by legal departments, supervisor approval, etc.) that may factor into the distribution hierarchy and/or timeline for delivery regarding internal and/or external correspondence. This also applies to the classroom setting in which the writing process (rough draft, peer review, final draft) depends upon a delivery chain. For instance, your professor will likely want to approve your project idea and data collection design before you conduct your research.
- Finally, professionals in most fields engage in correspondence virtually every day. Since correspondence will likely be the most prolific form of technical writing you practice in your career, this makes it an important skill to master.
The following sections of this chapter will explore some of the more common forms of professional correspondence in depth. As you read through them, reflect on your own communicative practices. Which principles do you already follow, and which do you need to cultivate more?